Are You Good Enough For Marriage?

When I was in high school and college, one of the things that I battled with constantly was the idea that I wasn’t “good enough”.  I battled this in almost every area of my life.  I saw myself as decent, but not great at pretty much everything.  The things that I did care about (sports for example) I worked my tail off to become great.  But I never saw myself as arriving at greatness.

Nowhere was this more true than with the opposite sex.  I was constantly in the friend zone with the girls that I liked.  I thought I was physically not attractive enough.  Later I thought I wasn’t making enough money.  The list goes on.  One of my go to thoughts was, “I’m just not good enough.”

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Don’t Marry Someone You “Need”

A few months ago while speaking at a church, someone asked the question, “Should you marry someone you can live with, or wait to marry someone you can’t live without?”

Here is the short answer to that question.  If you are single, you are living without that person now.  Therefore you have already proven that there is no one that you can’t live without.

This question is so key though because it gets at the heart of one of the reasons in our culture that our our marriage rate is falling.  It’s the idea that we must wait for our soulmate, this perfect person who God created just for us.  We are to wait for the “right” one.  The one who will not be perfect (of course we say, no one is perfect) but the perfect one for us.

I’ve written extensively about the idea of the ONE and the Christian soulmate.  These are false ideas to begin with.  But today I want to take a bit of a different angle.

I firmly believe that you should not go into marriage with the idea that you can’t live without that person.  Here are some reasons why.

First and foremost your identity has to be in Christ and not in another person.

One night when my wife and I were engaged we had a funny conversation kind of about this.  I was 40 and she was 34 and as we were discussing this very idea she said, “I could marry you today and you could be run over tomorrow.  What happens then?”  In other words she was saying if her whole identity was in me then she’d be done.  She was exactly right.

Now granted we had a little different perspective as we’d already lived a long time without each other (which presents its own challenges).  But I think this is extremely healthy.  When we put our identity in another person we are setting ourselves up.  In a sense, we end up making an idol out of the other person.

This is one of the big problems with the idea of The One.  The only ONE is God.  God is the one that we “need”.

When we set a person up as someone that we need, we can’t love them because we give them too much power over us.  It screws up our perspective.  We start looking to this person to fulfill needs they can’t.  We look to them to answer our core questions such as “am I lovable?” “Do I matter?” “Am I worth it?” “Am I valuable?” “Do I have what it takes?” These type of questions can’t be answered by a person, only by God.  And only when I have those questions answered by God am I actually free to love anyone the way God commands us to – in other words the way God loves us.

God doesn’t need us.  This is what makes His love trustworthy.  He doesn’t love us because of anything we do for Him.  Think about that.  To really love someone is to love them just because, not because of what they do for us.  Otherwise love is conditional.  The marriage vows are not conditional.  In fact, quite the opposite, they are vows that are supposed to stand regardless of the conditions.

Really if we marry someone with the attitude of not being able to live without them, we are sort of marrying under compulsion instead of making a choice.  I believe that marriage is a choice.

Ideally we would move into the marriage covenant out of love for the other person.  We know that we can indeed live without them, but we choose not to.  We choose instead to freely enter into a covenant with them.

If we enter into marriage with the idea that we can’t live without the other person, what happens if ten years in, we realize, “wait a minute, I can live without this person.”  What happens if all of a sudden I don’t feel like I “need” that person?

Really what it comes down to is that we should marry someone that we don’t need but that we want to marry.  This reflects God’s love for us.

To me, to be loved is to be chosen.  God doesn’t need us.  He isn’t sitting around thinking that He can’t live without us.  He lived without us forever in the past.  He could live without us forever in the future.  But He chose to create us.  Jesus chose to come after us.  He chose to die for us.  He doesn’t need us – He WANTS us.  He is 100% committed to us even though we aren’t always 100% committed to Him.  How amazing is that?

At it’s best, and at it’s core, marriage is meant to be a reflection of that.  I don’t need that person, but out of love I choose them regardless of what happens to them or what they do. And they don’t need me, but out of love they choose me, regardless of what happens to me or what I do.  That friends is marriage.

 

 

 

 

God The Great Withholder

I want to revisit one of the beliefs that I think can really hurt us as singles and even as marrieds.  It’s the idea that God has one person for me that he is going to provide but just hasn’t done it yet.

This idea is everywhere.  It is in books on dating.  It’s said from the pulpit.  It’s encouraged in small groups.  “You just need to be patient – God will bring you the one”.  “God will in His perfect timing, bring you the perfect person for you.”  “Just live your life and don’t worry about it, because God will provide.”  “Rejection is God’s Protection – she just wasn’t right for you.”  The list goes on and on.

People try to use scripture to back this idea up.  They use situations like Isaac and Rebekah and say see God will provide.  Yeah I’ll just send my servant to a well. You have to make some major leaps to make this idea scriptural.

The heart of this usually comes in one of two places.  Most people are mainly trying to be comforting.  It’s a quick, painless way out of a the “why are you single” conversation. It’s what I call help you sleep at night theology.  While it might help you sleep, it probably won’t help you find a wife.

The other place it comes from is the good hearted place of wanting to recognize that God is our provider for all things.  Well He is, but the problem is that we don’t treat that the same way in any other place.

If I came to you and said, I’m broke and I need a job, would you tell me to sit tight – that God will provide the perfect job that is just for me at the right time?  I should wait for the perfect job, and for sure not settle right?  Obviously this would be a bad idea.  You’d tell me to go look for a job.  Or maybe you’d say I need to go back to school to train for a different job.  What you wouldn’t likely do is blame God for my joblessness.

I think this whole idea is dangerous to us personally on a lot of levels.

First of all it perpetuates the idea of the Christian Soulmate.  This idea that there is this one person that God has for you.  This to me is not scriptural and frankly more a mix of bad Calvinism, Oprah theology and romance novels.  Nowhere in Scripture are you promised a wife, let alone a soulmate.  You do not have a soulmate.  In fact Jesus specifically says that there won’t be marriage in heaven.  The other funny thing about the soulmate is that the focus is typically on how they will be perfect for me, not so much the other way around.

Second is that many end up in fear of choosing wrong.  What if I marry someone that is not the one perfect person that God has for me.  This can also become an excuse where every person I date just “isn’t the one“.  Not to mention it’s a great excuse after marriage for leaving the marriage.  I mean if I meet someone who seems more like the perfect one, well then I must not have been right the first time right?

It can keep us from working on the things that get in the way of us getting married.  Our (and other people’s) sin, insecurities and/or lack of ability to communicate with the opposite sex.  It’s not anything that I’m doing, or the choices that I or others around me make.  It’s God’s fault.

But perhaps the worst thing about it is that it turns God into the Great Withholder.  God loves you and has someone for you, He just isn’t bringing them to you.  Really?!  This always get’s explained as you’re not ready or they’re not ready or something to that affect. But people get married all the time.  God thought they were ready but you aren’t?  All this does is create unnecessary anger and frustration with God.

It would also mean, as I’ve mentioned before, that God has changed His mind about marriage.  Now I know logic is dead in our culture but hang with me here.  For thousands of years, people got married young.  As recently as 40 years ago if you were 18-29 there was a 60% chance you were married.  Now there is only a 20% chance that you are.  So God used to think it was good to “provide the one” in your early 20s or teens, but now He waits to do it until you are 30.  Really?!

Now here’s the thing.  God is the Great Provider.  But His provision looks a little different than this.  First of all we need to get in our heads that He is not as much our provider as He is literally our provision.  Read that again.  God has given us all we need regardless of our context because He has given us Himself.  We need to start here or all else is foolishness.  The beauty of living in this is that I can live life to the full in any context including single or married.  If I get this, then I am free to search for a wife, instead of The One. If I get married, I’m more free to actually love my wife.

If we walk with God, He will provide opportunities.  But we have a role to play in that and we live in a fallen world where we and everyone we interact with (including someone we could marry) make mistakes and bad decisions.  I believe that God indeed brought my wife and I together.  I fully believe that He was in that.  But I also believe that we both chose to do something about it.

Here’s what we really want.  We want a system where either we don’t have to do anything or where we control everything.  But neither of those are right.  Neither require actually walking with God.

My Picker Is Broken

One of the things I’ve heard from several people when it comes to dating is the words, “I think my picker is broken.”  In other words, “I keep picking the wrong people to be with.”

There can be a lot of reasons for this and a lot of different results.  We can can keep getting into relationships with people that we shouldn’t or keep chasing people that we can’t seem to “get”.  Some of it might be self sabotage for various reasons.  But a lot of it has to do with misunderstanding and/or mismanaging attraction.

As I’ve said a lot, attraction is not a conscious in the moment choice.  But it matters and in a big time way.  I believe its not so much that our picker is broken as it is that our attraction meter is broken.  I mean this in several ways.

For starters we need to understand that our attraction scale is skewed.  This is true for both how we see the opposite sex and typically in how we see ourselves.  Let me explain.

Let’s say there is an attraction scale from 1-10.  1 would be extremely unattractive.  10 would be extremely attractive.  This is maybe more straightforward for how guys see women because it’s more a physical thing, but the scale works for women as well, just in a different way.

I think there are very very few 1s and 2s and also very very few 9s and 10s.  Most people fall in between.  In fact it is my contention that most people fall between 4 and 7 but maybe I’m just an optimist.  There is a lot of good news in this.  For one, it can be subjective. While it might be true that a 10 is a 10 to just about anyone, one persons 5 could for sure be another persons 7.  Second we can do things to move up or down in that scale.  Maybe a six can’t be a 10, but presentation can sure make them a 7.  You get what I’m saying.

But the bad news is that this scale is not only subjective, it’s also based on context to some extent.  Here’s what I mean by that.  100 years ago if you lived in say St. Joseph Missouri (a town of about 70,000 people) you would only meet people from there.  So your context of 1-10 was sort of dictated by that.  But then came ease of travel – specifically highways and airplanes.  Now I could view people from everywhere.  This skews the scale.  As a female friend of mine once said, “the great thing about it is, in California I’d be a 6 or 7 but in St. Joseph I’m a 10”.  I remember laughing about that – there was some truth to it.

But now we have a bigger problem.  We have hundreds of channels and of course the internet.  So now the context is the world – every picture, book, story, movie and perversion.  We even have what I call the off the scale 15.  The 15 is the touched up model or the movie star guy.  It’s not real, and yet we’ve spent our whole life viewing that as the 10, when really it’s the 15 – it’s not even actually on the scale.  So our scale is skewed and we need to begin to figure that out.

This leads us to the second problem.  We have this idea that in order to marry someone, we need to be “perfectly attracted”.  We need our “soulmate” so to speak.  Not only should I be 100% attracted, but I should always feel that way.

This makes us eliminate good people that we are actually pretty dang attracted to. Remember most of us are not a 9 or 10 and we are certainly not a 15.  And yet that has become the prerequisite for marriage.

This is seriously frustrating for many of us.  We meet people that have the qualities that we are looking for, but we rule them out because we aren’t attracted enough (read perfectly attracted).  Notice I didn’t say not attracted at all.  We are at least somewhat attracted to all sorts of people.  We need to own this!  While it might be fine to say I don’t want to marry someone I’m not attracted to, it’s not the same thing to say I don’t want to marry someone I’m not 100% attracted to 100% of the time.

This is where it comes back to the picker problem.  When we keep looking for the perfect attraction, when we do feel that way, all else flies out the window.  This is part of why so many women end up with the guy who has none of the qualities they are looking for.  They are attracted so it’s now time to rationalize everything else.  Or it leads to the guy chasing the girl who won’t ever say yes, but dang it, he’s 100% attracted to her, so he has to keep acting on it.  And for many Christians it means just picking no one.  I’m attracted to the wrong people so I just won’t be with anyone.  While better than being married to the wrong person, it’s not a good long term solution.

So what do we do?  How do we manage attraction?  I’ll say more about this soon.

By the way, this doesn’t even take into consideration that most men don’t even realize what women are attracted to at all (nor do a lot of women).  

But I really believe the first step is asking some hard questions.  What is your attraction scale? What type of decisions do you make out of that?  Where do you see yourself on your scale?  How do you know where you are? How attracted do you need to be to act on it? To stay with it?

Men And The C Word

One of the things that people would sometimes “challenge” me in as I entered my mid thirties as an unmarried person was the idea of commitment.  In other words they would say things like, “Do you think you are afraid of commitment?” or “Marriage is about commitment, you know?”, or, “our friend Justin has some commitment issues when it comes to women”.  Ah the C word.

Now I get it and it’s probably fair to ask this question if you don’t know me.  But I always had a problem with it because in general it didn’t wash with me.  First off, I’m a pretty committed person in general.  I’ve always been committed to my work, friends, projects, the game I’m playing that day.  No one would look at my life and say, “Justin usually bails on stuff.”

It seems to get tossed out a lot in our culture (both secular and Christian) that men in general are fearful of or unable to commit to women and marriage. I kind of disagree, in general.

There a lot of factors at play here, so let’s take a look.

First of all, I would agree that we live in a world in which people are often less “committed” to things.  This is mainly because we have more choice than ever before. Most people don’t stay with the same company they started out with.  We have more freedom to move and travel.  We have a zillion channels and now the internet.  Heck, people change churches and friend groups at least every four or five years.  So yeah, people are less committed in general.

We also have more choices in dating.  As my father once said, “Back 100 years ago when a pretty girl came to town, you married that girl, because she might be the only one you ever met.”  In other words there wasn’t the comparison game that we all play now.  There weren’t pictures of models everywhere.  There weren’t thousands of romance novels and Lifetime specials.  Women had even less options. You can feel that this is good or bad, but it is for sure true.

The second factor is that we have separated sex from marriage.  So if you don’t need commitment in order to have your sexual desire met, then why have commitment. When you start separating sex (let alone living together, child rearing, etc) from the context of marriage, then you automatically take away from marriage – both for the single and the married (more on this soon).

Neither of those factors have to do with fear of commitment.  They have to do with the choice to not be committed.

Now fear of marriage and divorce are real factors that create fear of commitment.  That’s no doubt a big factor.

But to be honest, I think the whole fear of commitment thing is a bit overblown and frankly it gets used against single men way to often.  I don’t believe that men are any more or less likely to be committed than women.  A lot of this comes from the false notion that women are morally superior to men which is a whole other conversation.

But let’s back this whole thing up one more step.

First you have to actually have someone available that you want to commit to. For much of my single years I didn’t have that.  As I’ve admitted several different times here, much of that was my fault.  I went a long time not working on becoming the man I needed to be in this area.  I had no idea about how female attraction worked.  I did a lot wrong.  No doubt.  But along with that, when you are a Christian trying to follow Jesus you are working with a small target – that is women you are attracted to that also want to follow Jesus.

This is a gigantic factor.  It’s a bigger factor in singleness than fear of commitment.  Finding someone to be committed to can be a big problem.  Knowing how to go get that person is also a problem.  We should spend more time here and less time beating people over the head with commitment.

Which brings me to the final couple of points I want to make about commitment.

Assuming that I am committed to Jesus, and I’m not called to celibacy, I need to be committed to the idea, and pursuit of marriage.  That does NOT mean marry anyone.  It doesn’t even mean that you have to know if you can marry someone before you ask them out.  But it means having the end in mind.  It means not dating the person that I know I won’t marry just because it’s comfortable or easy, not doing things that will hurt your marriage opportunities, and learning how to interact well with the opposite sex so you have a chance if you do meet someone you might want to marry.

It also means that I need to move away from looking for someone that meets all my needs, start looking for someone that I am willing to be committed to and who I believe would be committed to me.  More on that soon.

Are you a committed person?  Are you stuck in consumer dating?  What are you committed to when it comes to dating and marriage?

Should We Develop Dating Skills?

When I was a kid I loved basketball.  I loved playing it, watching it, listening to it on the radio and then re-enacting that game in the driveway the next day.

As I got older I began to actually work really hard at it.  I was coached by my dad (who still has a quicker release on his shot than me).  Later different coaches spent time with me and coached me up.  I played spring and summer ball.  I went to the outdoor courts to practice.  I did drills.  When I reached high school I conditioned and even bought strength shoes to help my vertical.  I shot endless free throws making sure I made 10 in a row before I quit for the day – no matter how long it took – even in the dark.

Now I never became a star.  I got a few awards but I was no where near good enough to play division one.  But I did get better – a lot better.  And even now I can still bang it out in the post against most people.  I can’t do physically what I could 20 years ago, but the flow and movements come naturally – because they are ingrained.  They are a part of me.

Practice and coaching are a part of almost everything we do in life.  Think about it.  If you’ve learned to play a musical instrument, learned math, got a degree in anything you’ve been coached and you’ve practiced.  When we enter the workforce we are trained by someone. When you get a new job, you have to learn the culture of that company or industry.  Someone helps you – at least hey hand you a manual or something.

Even in church this is true.  To be a small group leaders usually means you have to be in a small group first.  Then there is at least a training weekend.  Someone should check in on how you are doing.   A new Christian can usually get help on how to read the bible.  There are membership classes.  Need help in an area? There’s a class for that.  Marriage, parenting, spiritual gifts, bible study, all of it.

But when it comes to helping single people get married, not so much. We are so lost in this area and there is very little help.

There are all sorts of things that keep us single.  Some of it is situational.  Some of it is our own sin or lack of commitment.  No doubt.  Some of it though, has to do with skill.

Now we all hate that it takes skill.  But we hate this in every area of life.  I mean I wish I could be good at stuff without working at it.  Who doesn’t?  But that’s not the typical situation.  I’d love to be able to hit the golf ball where I want it to go without ever practicing. I wish I never had to study for a test in college but I did.

There is skill involved in getting a date.  There is the inner confidence part.  The approach part.  There is the body language part.  Many of us have never even considered most of this.  Most of us have never worked at it.  And almost none of us have ever been coached or mentored in it in any way whatsoever.

Many of us grew up without a dad or without one who taught us this stuff.  A lot of us learned all the wrong things.  It’s a mess.  It doesn’t have to be.  But you probably aren’t going to wake one morning, flip a switch and do it different.

This is why a lot of the spiritual platitudes in Christian dating are a complete waste of time.  “God will bring you someone” is pointless if you can’t close the deal when He does.  Telling me about marriage is helpful but won’t help me get married.

Most in the Church basically say don’t date.  Don’t pursue someone unless you are sure it could go somewhere.  Don’t practice. I get the idea.  But to me it’s unfair to assume that someone can never go on a date, and then just turn it on at the right moment for the right person.

Am I saying go on hundreds of dates?  Am I saying ask everyone out, or hit on every girl.  Heaven’s no!  But what I am saying is that somehow we need to help people work through their stuff and develop their ability to actually move with confidence when they feel led to.

We need to quit focussing solely on keeping people from marrying wrong.  People are already not getting married.  Instead we need to somehow become proactive (within our principles of loving others) in helping people figure out how to get married right.  That has to include more than who not to marry.  It has to include how to make the right thing happen.

I have more questions on this than answers.  How do we get better at dating/relationship starting?  Where did you learn what you do know?  What do you wish someone would have helped you with in this area?